AACTA Award-nominated costume designer Mariot Kerr (Tracks) explains how she translated the looks from Robyn Davidson’s true story to film.
What is it like to bring characters to life on film through costume? AACTA Award-nominated costume designer Mariot Kerr (Tracks) explains how she translated the looks from Robyn Davidson’s true story to film. Working closely with director John Curran and production designer Melinda Doring, Kerr researched Robyn Davidson (who wrote the book Tracks about her outback trek in the late 70s) and the other characters to learn as much as she could about their eclectic style. “This job was different because we were portraying people who are real and alive and very much part of the project,” Kerr says. “Rick Smolan’s photos were an invaluable resource, but many of Robyn’s garments, and the way she wore them, were so intriguing; I consulted her directly.” Kerr, whose film credits include Red Dog, December Boys and Drift, found the juxtaposition between Davidson’s garments fascinating. From her boho time in Sydney, and her lilac kimonostyle Japanese jacket that she wore throughout her journey, to her global traveller styles, such as her Balinese lace blouse, and how she paired Chinese silk embroidered tops with op-shop pants and men’s check shirts with Indonesian ikat sarongs. The film’s locations served as a constant source of inspiration for Kerr, creating the wardrobe colour palette from the desert itself. “Mandy Walker (director of photography) came back from a reconnaissance with a beautiful series of location photos and that is how the colour palette evolved – different hues of violets, greens and golds reflecting the desert in differing light,” she says. “She had amazing aerial shots where the vegetation and erosion closely resembled dot paintings and I tried to repeat this in the detailed patterns of Mia’s clothing and textures of the clothes such as the knit of Mr Eddie’s beanie.” One of Mariot Kerr’s sketches for Tracks Kerr had the task to create looks for Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver for the film, sourcing a few unique vintage pieces from the Vintage Clothing Company in Sydney and then creating the rest. For Wasikowska’s wardrobe, multiple garments were needed to portray the different stages of her journey. Davidson had explained to Kerr how practical she found sarongs and that she found her Akubra hat too warm to wear, so used sarongs not only for clothing but also for portable shade, something to sit on and to carry bush tucker. “We made at least four lilac kimonos – the first one looked almost brand new but the fourth one was faded, filthy and totally bedraggled.” Kerr continues, “The art-finishing of the costumes were just as important as the initial choice. We experimented with each garment to show the dirt and dust and wear and tear of clothes, which would have only been washed occasionally in bore water. My other favourite garment is the Indian wraparound skirt that Mia wears as a dress in the poster shot. We found it looked most authentic after we dipped it in a sludge bucket and dried it in the desert sun and wind.” Working in such remote locations is always an experience. Kerr explains some of the challenges in designing for a film like Tracks. “When secondary cast arrive for fittings the day before their scenes and you discover that their agents have given you out of date measurements, there is no time to acquire any other options from the cities,” she says. “I had some very late nights with my amazing wardrobe supervisor Robyn Elliott, working out of the back of the Leigh Creek Fire Station madly dyeing, re-cutting, re-styling garments off the extras’ racks, so we could offer up a presentable outfit for the next day’s filming.” Aside from an AACTA Award-nomination (Best Costume Design), 2014 has seen Kerr work on Jim Loach’s latest feature Chasing Satellites (starring Paz Vega, Edward James Olmos and Jessica Marais), as well as Sam Worthington’s Deadline Gallipoli. “I’m taking it a bit more gently at the moment. I’m currently working on a TV commercial with my producer friend Leona Cichon and her new venture Firebox Films. I’ve heard there are some big things in the pipeline, so I’m hoping to get a phone call for something in the near future. That’s the nature of working in the industry. You learn to enjoy the down time while trying not to worry that you may never work again!” Kerr’s advice for those wanting to get into the industry – if you want to work in a glamorous industry look elsewhere, as she explains. “I work freelance, so there is no job certainty and the competition is fierce. We often work outrageous hours in the harshest conditions. However, if you work hard and grow to love the industry, it can be incredibly fulfilling. I work with inspiring people from all around the world and worked in some rare and amazingly beautiful locations.” mariotkerr.com